Content warning: This story includes references to racial slurs and discrimination, as well as other sensitive matters.
Editor’s note: This story was originally written in April 2021, after the Western Colorado University (WCU) Board of Trustees conducted a series of listening sessions. In May 2021, then-president Dr. Gregory Salsbury resigned from his position, and later was replaced by Nancy Chisholm, who remains the interim president. This story is being published now to highlight the broad campus issues raised in those listening sessions. Consultants will visit campus this week to further those discussions in their mission to find a new, permanent president.
Last spring, the Board of Trustees (BoT) held a series of listening sessions for alumni, students, faculty and staff, mid-managers, community partners, as well as sessions for faculty and students with “diverse backgrounds.”
Diminished attendance at some sessions was in some attendees’ view a sign of significant fear among non-tenured faculty and staff, as well as a deep exhaustion and disconnect with the Western BoT after years of attempted change has been met with little concrete action.
Coming on the heels of president Salsbury’s Capitol Insurrection email, the introduction and passage of the controversial Strategic Resource Allocation (SRA), and the faculty referendum calling for new leadership, many listening session attendees voiced their collective dissatisfaction with Western’s leadership.
Throughout the sessions, many attendees demanded to know why the 73 percent of faculty who voted to remove President Salsbury were brushed off in an official Board statement which merely “acknowledged” the referendum result.
Other issues raised at the sessions included poor transparency and communication from the Board and low student and faculty retention rates traced to a toxic campus environment that many feel originates with administration.
“When we do not hold our leaders accountable, then no one below them, including the student population, will also be expected to be held accountable,” noted Michele Wilk, a former master’s student and Western employee.
Attendees outlined repeated instances of rampant discrimination, harassment, and hate, both on campus and in the community, that has left many students, faculty, and staff feeling unsafe, with little available recourse.
Enrique Rosario, a Western senior, used some of his speaking time to list off slurs that have been directed at Western students, including himself: “Nigger, Black bitch, faggot, queer, beaner, wetback.”
Dr. Salif Mahamane, a professor of psychology and the advisor for the Black Student Alliance (BSA), zeroed in on Board Chair Chris Blees’ comment calling race a “superficial” characteristic of diversity as indicative of the Board’s failure to understand the experiences of many underrepresented groups at Western.
Precious Allen, a Western junior who heads the BSA, asserts that Western tokenizes Black and female students, among others, for marketing purposes, yet offers little to support them when they arrive.
Allen and Dr. Mahamane both recommend the standardization of diverse curriculum models and mandatory training around Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) to address Western’s pervasive issues around race.
Several students noted that President Salsbury’s April 5th Fox News appearance was described as “standing against the mob”, with the students and faculty criticizing the President for his many perceived injustices comprising the supposed “mob”, in their eyes a perfect encapsulation of the President’s disrespect for students.
Regarding campus strengths, session attendees overwhelmingly asserted that Western’s strong suit is its community of dedicated professors and students who care deeply for learning, for Western and this valley, and for each other.
Potential remedies offered during the sessions ranged from the call to dismiss president Salsbury, to more resources for JEDI initiatives, real voting power for student and faculty trustees, and a clean sweep of top administrators to invoke a fresh, detoxified start.